Queens's County - Encyclopedia

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QUEENS'S COUNTY, a county of Ireland, in the province of Leinster, bounded N.W. and N. by King's County, E. by Kildare, S. by Carlow and Kilkenny, and W. by Tipperary; area, 424,723 acres, or about 664 sq. m. The surface is for the most part level or gently undulating, but in the north-west rises into the elevations of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, the highest summit being Arderin, 1733 ft. In the central part of the county there is a large extent of bog. The south-east portion is included in the Leinster coalfield. Nearly the whole of the county is drained either by the Barrow, which has its source in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, and forms at various points the boundary with King's County, Kildare and Carlow, or by the Nore, which enters the county from Tipperary near Borris-in-Ossory, and flows east and then south till it reaches Kilkenny. The lakes are few and small, the largest being Lough Anaghmore on the north-western boundary. The Grand Canal enters the county at Portarlington, and runs southwards to the Barrow in Kildare, a branch passing westwards 12 miles to Mountmellick.

The limestone plain prevails in this county, but the high coalfield, shared with Kilkenny and Carlow, rises from it in the south; while the Slieve Bloom Mountains, a round-backed Old Red Sandstone mass with Silurian inliers, dominate the lowland west of Maryborough. The limestone itself produces a range of hills near Stradbally, on which the fortress of Dunamase stands conspicuously. Esker-gravels provide sandy soils in many places. Clay-ironstone was formerly raised in connexion with the anthracite from the coalfield.

The climate is dry and healthy. Originally a great extent of the surface was occupied with bog, but by draining much of it has been converted into good land. For the most part it is very fertile except in the hilly districts towards the north, and there is some remarkably rich land in the south-east. The acreage under pasture is not quite twice that of tillage. Dairyfarming is extensively practised. Agriculture forms the chief occupation, but the manufacture of woollen and cotton goods is carried on to a small extent. The main line of the Great Southern & Western railway traverses the county from N.E. to S.W. by way of Portarlington and Maryborough; from the latter town branches run N. to Mountmellick and S. to Waterford, and from Ballybrophy a line runs W. to Birr (Parsonstown) and to Limerick.

The population (63,855 in 1891; 57,417 in 1901) decreases in excess of the average of the Irish counties, and emigration is considerable. Of the total about 88% are Roman Catholic, and almost the whole is rural. Maryborough (the county town, pop. 2957), Mountmellick (2407) and Mountrath (1304), with Portarlington (1943, partly in King's County), are the principal towns. The county is divided into eleven baronies. Ecclesiastically. it is in the Protestant dioceses of Dublin, Killaloe and Ossory, and in the Roman Catholic dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin, Ossory and Killaloe. Assizes are held at Maryborough, and quarter sessions at Abbeyleix, Borris-in-Ossory, Graigue (a suburb of Carlow), Maryborough, Mountmellick and Stradbally. The county is divided into the Leix and Ossory parliamentary divisions. To the Irish parliament two members were returned for the county and two each for the boroughs of Ballinakill, Maryborough and Portarlington.

The territory now included in Queen's County covered the districts of Leix, Slewmargy, Irry and part of Glenmaliry, until in 1556 it was made shire ground under the name of Queen's County, in honour of Queen Mary, the place chosen for the county town being named Maryborough. Three miles south of Stradbally is Dun of Clopook, an ancient dun or fort occupying the whole extent of the hill. Aghaboe, where there are the ruins of the abbey, was formerly the seat of the bishopric of Ossory. There are no remains of the abbey of Timahoe founded by St Mochua in the 6th century, but in the neighbourhood there is a fine round tower, 96 ft. high. Abbeyleix, a small market town south of Maryborough, had a famous Cistercian foundation of the r 2th century. The church of Killeshin, in the S.E. of the county, exhibits fine carving of the Norman period. Among the principal old castles are the ruined fortress of the O'Mores occupying the precipitous rock of Dunamase, 3 m. E. of Maryborough, Borris-in-Ossory on the Nore, and Lea Castle on the Barrow, near Portarlington, erected by the Fitzgeralds about 1260, burnt by Edward Bruce in 1315, again rebuilt, and in 1650 laid in ruins by the soldiers of Cromwell.

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